Tenet Healthcare Corporation's (NYSE:THC) solid earnings announcement recently didn't do much to the stock price. We did some digging, and we think that investors are missing some encouraging factors in the underlying numbers.
Zooming In On Tenet Healthcare's Earnings
One key financial ratio used to measure how well a company converts its profit to free cash flow (FCF) is the accrual ratio. In plain english, this ratio subtracts FCF from net profit, and divides that number by the company's average operating assets over that period. The ratio shows us how much a company's profit exceeds its FCF.
Therefore, it's actually considered a good thing when a company has a negative accrual ratio, but a bad thing if its accrual ratio is positive. While it's not a problem to have a positive accrual ratio, indicating a certain level of non-cash profits, a high accrual ratio is arguably a bad thing, because it indicates paper profits are not matched by cash flow. Notably, there is some academic evidence that suggests that a high accrual ratio is a bad sign for near-term profits, generally speaking.
Over the twelve months to December 2020, Tenet Healthcare recorded an accrual ratio of -0.15. That indicates that its free cash flow quite significantly exceeded its statutory profit. To wit, it produced free cash flow of US$2.9b during the period, dwarfing its reported profit of US$399.0m. Tenet Healthcare's free cash flow improved over the last year, which is generally good to see.
That might leave you wondering what analysts are forecasting in terms of future profitability. Luckily, you can click here to see an interactive graph depicting future profitability, based on their estimates.
Our Take On Tenet Healthcare's Profit Performance
Tenet Healthcare's accrual ratio is solid, and indicates strong free cash flow, as we discussed, above. Because of this, we think Tenet Healthcare's earnings potential is at least as good as it seems, and maybe even better! And one can definitely find a positive in the fact that it made a profit this year, despite losing money last year. Of course, we've only just scratched the surface when it comes to analysing its earnings; one could also consider margins, forecast growth, and return on investment, among other factors. With this in mind, we wouldn't consider investing in a stock unless we had a thorough understanding of the risks. Be aware that Tenet Healthcare is showing 5 warning signs in our investment analysis and 2 of those are potentially serious...
This note has only looked at a single factor that sheds light on the nature of Tenet Healthcare's profit. But there are plenty of other ways to inform your opinion of a company. Some people consider a high return on equity to be a good sign of a quality business. While it might take a little research on your behalf, you may find this free collection of companies boasting high return on equity, or this list of stocks that insiders are buying to be useful.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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